Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

A Group of Scottish Women

AT no time in the world's history has the position of woman claimed so large a share of the public thought as it does to-day; never have her influence and power been more fully recognised. Her energies are no longer restricted to the domestic hearth; they extend from the factory workroom to the political platform. She advances unchallenged along walks of life to which until but recently she has been denied all access. At the present moment, indeed, the Army might seem to be the only profession in which she does not aspire to take her place side by side with man.

Whether the hand that rocks the cradle is competent to rule the world is one of the controversial questions of the moment. It does not, however, lie within the scope of the present volume to promote such a discussion. But whatever views one may hold on the subject of woman's capacity to govern or achieve, it cannot be denied that she has always been the most fruitful source of inspiration for genius or eminence of any kind ; that the noblest actions (and the greatest crimes) have been inspired by women. It is therefore interesting to look back into the past and recall individual instances of women who, by reason of their heroism, courage, piety, or wit, have affected their generation and made their mark upon the history of the age in which they lived.

Of the world's women who have ranked as celebrities, Scotland can lay claim to a generous share. Scottish queens, from the sainted Margaret -who was, however, Scots only by adoption-to the ill-starred Mary ; heroines, from Grisell Baillie to Flora Macdonald; great ladies and leaders of society, from the Duchess of Buccleuch and Lady Stair to Lady Eglinton and Gainsborough's Mrs. Graham ; writers and novelists, from Susan Ferrier, Catherine Sinclair, Lady Halkett, Mrs. Brunton, and Mrs. Hamilton to Mrs. Grant of Laggan ; poets and songstresses, from Joanna Baillie to Lady Nairne ; they have inscribed their names indelibly upon the pages of the national history. There are, moreover, a number, difficult to classify -such widely different women as Lady Arabella Stuart, Lady Jane Douglas, and Mrs. Clephane Maclean - who all inspire interest and deserve more than passing notice. While others, again, of the type of jenny Geddes, Lady Lovat, or Miss Sophia Johnstone, have become notorious by their very eccentricities.

With so many names to choose from, it is somewhat curious that there should not be any single one that stands out with notable pre-eminence. When the Scottish National Portrait Gallery was built, some twenty years ago, a number of patriotic Edinburgh ladies raised a subscription to erect a statue of a famous and typical Scotswoman in one of the niches in the front of the building. It was to be a fitting companion to the effigies of Barbour, Raeburn, Knox, Adam Smith, and the other eminent Scotsmen already installed there. When, however, the final choice of the individual came to be made, it was found impossible to decide upon the name of any woman, of pure Scottish birth and breeding, who was worthy, in the opinion of the subscribers, of such an honour.

It is not my intention to attempt the solution of a problem by which the Scotswomen of the past have succeeded in puzzling their descendants of to-day. My desire is to present the reader with a series of biographical portraits of some of the most prominent of the former, and to throw as much light as possible upon their characters, methods, and achievements.

Of materials for such a volume there is no lack. Interesting women are plentiful throughout the whole history of Scotland; the eighteenth century is particularly rich in them. How many books have already been written round the "Ladies of the Covenant"? and still the material appears inexhaustible. What subjects for literary treatment are to be found in the lives of fair Jacobites; of that devoted group, "the Queen's Maries"; of the "flames" of the susceptible Robert Burns, or the friends of the large-hearted Walter Scott !

In these pages I have endeavoured to collect a number of types of feminine character, differing from one another in many particulars, but all with one single exception-bound together by the common ties of Scottish birth. There are, no doubt, many names well worthy of a place in the front rank of Scottish women, which have not been included in this volume. My excuse must be that there was not room for all, and in the selection of subjects I have exercised the right of allowing personal preference, or prejudice, to be my guide. My choice of individuals is, indeed, a purely arbitrary one. It ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the devout to the degenerate ; from Dervorguilla, the philanthropist, to Elspeth Buchan, the fanatic; from Jane, Countess of Sutherland, to Isobel Pagan. Many phases of character are thereby represented. Thus, Lady Grisell Baillie stands for heroism ; Jane, Duchess of Gordon, for political ambition ; "Black Agnes" is the type of Scottish Amazon ; Miss " Nicky " Murray, the woman of fashion ; Lady Anne Barnard, the woman of the world ; Mrs. Grant, the "blue-stocking "-and so on through out these pages.

In my treatment I have adopted a discursive style. I have even ventured to introduce much extraneous and apparently irrelevant matter. My object has been to include in these sketches of notable Scotswomen some brief glimpses of other less important individuals of whom it was not possible to write at length. Above all, I have sought to provide each of my main figures with a suitable background, which shall suggest something of the general life and manners of her particular time.

For permission to make use of various sources of information, kindly placed at my disposal, I am indebted to the courtesy of the Hon. Mrs. Maxwell Scott, Mrs. Graham-Wigan, the Duke of Sutherland, the Duke of Portland, the Earl of Crawford, the Earl of Home, and Colonel H. R. Clinton. I am particularly grateful to the Earl of Rosebery, Lord Guthrie, Lord Balcarres, Mr. A. Francis Steuart, Mr. William K. Dickson (Keeper of the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh), the Rev. James M. Joass of Golspie, and to my friend, Mr. E. V, Lucas, for their interest, encouragement, and assistance. I also wish to express my warmest thanks to Mr. David Douglas for permission to quote extensively from many publications of which he holds the copyright. To various other publishers and authors-notably Mrs. Godfrey Clark, the Hon. J. A. Home, and Mr. T. Craig-Brown -who have kindly provided me with valuable material, I have endeavoured, as far as possible to acknowledge my indebtedness in footnotes.

H. G.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus